Tuesday, November 6, 2012

2011 Erstes Gewaechs (Grand Cru) Wines of the Rheingau Released - Notes from the Pre-release Tasting in Wiesbaden, Germany

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller at the Rheingau Erstes Gewaechs Pre-release Tasting in Wiesbaden

The absolutely finest (dry) wines in the Bourgogne in France are called grand cru wines. Following the approach of Bourgogne, the VDP – the association of German elite winemakers – introduced a few years ago the concept of Grosses Gewaechs wines: Ultra - premium dry wines from the absolutely finest vineyards of the winemakers belonging to the VDP.

A couple of years before the introduction of the concept of Grosses Gewaechs wines, the German Land of Hessen, which includes the Rheingau, had introduced the same concept for all wines made within the boundaries of Hessen, i.e. by winemakers from the Rheingau. It had named these grand cru wines Erstes Gewaechs wines.

Thus, although this will change in the future, the ultra-premium dry wines from any winemaker in the Rheingau are the Erstes Gewaechs wines and the ultra-premium dry wines from any VDP producer are the Grosses Gewaechs wines.

The Erstes Gewaechs and Grosses Gewaechs wines, as far as white wines are concerned, are released to the public on September 1 in the year following the harvest (the red wines are released a year later). The pre-release tasting of the VDP producers in Wiesbaden a few days before September 1 is a major event for those interested in German wine. This year, I was invited to the pre-release tasting and I have already reported about the VDP event here.

In parallel to the Grosses Gewaechs pre-release tasting in the Kurhaus, the winemaker association of the Rheingau presented its Erstes Gewaechs wines in the Hotel Nassauer Hof, just across the street of the VDP event. This posting reports about the Rheingau Erstes Gewaechs event.


It is remarkable: For its entire length of nearly 560 miles, the Rhine flows north with one exception – a 28-mile stretch where the river changes its course. Here, it flows to the west, thereby enabling both the river and the vineyards facing it to bask in the warmth of the sun all day long. This is the Rheingau, one of the medium-size German wine regions. It is a quietly beautiful region, rich in tradition. Queen Victoria's enthusiasm for Hochheim's wines contributed to their popularity in England, where they, and ultimately, Rhine wines in general, were referred to as Hock.

Pictures: The Rheingau

The third President of the USA - and notable bon viveur - Thomas Jefferson visited the Rheingau in 1788 and wrote that the wine of the "Abbaye of Johnsberg is the best made on the Rhine without comparison … That of the year 1775 is the best." He also referred to the Rheingau’s Riesling as the "small and delicate Rhysslin which grows only from Hochheim to Rudesheim". Impressed by the quality of the Rheingau Riesling wines, he bought 100 grapevines to take back to his estate in Virginia.

Although the Rheingau is one of Germany’s smaller wine-growing regions, its 3,100 ha (7,660 acres) of vineyards are vastly diverse in their geological makeup. The soil varies from stony slate at the western part near the villages of Assmannshausen and Rudesheim to loess, sand and marl in the lower central villages of Geisenheim, Johannisberg, Winkel, Oestrich and Hattenheim. Soil reverts to stony phyllite in the higher central and eastern villages of Hallgarten, Kiedrich and Hochheim. Generally, wines from the lower slopes where the soil is heavier—sandy loam and loess—produce fuller wines, while at the higher slopes where it is more stony and slatey, the wines reflect more minerality, elegance and concentration.

The Rheingau enjoys a distinctly continental climate with cold winters and warm, but not hot, summers. The Rheingau is dominated by Riesling, accounting for 4/5 of the vineyard area. Pinot Noir accounts for 1/10 and is concentrated around Assmannshausen.

Erstes Gewaechs Wines

The Erstes Gewaechs concept is the same as the Grosses Gewaechs concept, with two major differences. First, any winemaker in the Rheingau – not only VDP Estates – can produce an Erstes Gewaechs wine, provided it is from a Erste Lage vineyard, fulfills all the technical criteria, and passes a final tasting test. Thus in the Rheingau, there are Grand Cru wines from other than VDP Estates, wheras in the other wine areas only VDP Estates have the possibililty to label their wines as a Grand Cru wine.

Pictures: Erstes Gewaechs Wines from Hochheim

Second, the dryness limits for Erstes Gewaechs are slightly higher than those of Grosses Gewaechs.

In the Bourgogne, the terms Grand Cru and Premier Cru are used and they imply a ranking. Grand Cru wines are better than Premier Cru wines. In Germany, Erstes and Grosses Gewaechs wines are exactly at the same level in terms of quality. But this will change.

Rheingau Erstes Gewaechs will become Rheingau Grosses Gewaechs

Earlier this year, the VDP refined its classification system and introduced a second quality layer, starting with the vintage 2012. Like in the Bourgogne, effective with the 1012 vintage, there will be VDP Grosses Gewaechs (Grand Cru) and VDP Erstes Gewaechs (Premier Cru).

Against this background, the Rheingau winemakers have decided to change the name of their absolutely finest dry wines from Erstes Gewaechs to Grosses Gewaechs. Thus, all the wines that I tasted will next year be a Grosses Gewaechs wine.

Tasting Notes


76 wines were presented. Notable absentees were Weingut Leitz, Weingut Breuer  and Weingut Peter Jakob Kuehn (Peter Jakob feels that late August is still too early to present his Erstes Gewaechs wines).

Kuenstler presented wines from Ruedesheim – Berg Rottland – and Hochheim – Hoelle and Kirchenstueck, and all 3 of them were in the top league. Kuenstler makes elegant and complex wines with depth and a long finish in the mouth. I was in particular impressed by the Hoelle.

Picture: With Gunter Kuenstler, Weingut Franz Kuenstler

It is only recently that I am getting more familiar with the wines of Desiree Eser, Weingut August Eser, as the Eser wines have been practically absent from the export market so far. The Lenchen showed fruit and strength, with fine herbal notes.

Picture: With Desiree Eser, Weingut August Eser, and Christian Ress, Weingut Baltasar Ress

Another producer that sells predominatly on the domestic market is Weingut Jakob Jung. The Siegelsberg of Alexander Jung was steely, with a vibrant acidity.

The Graefenberg of world class producer Robert Weil was a work of art, with a lot of depth and a never ending finish. An Ambassador of Rheingau Riesling.

Picture: With Wilhelm Weil, Weingut Robert Weil

Schönhell of Barth - creamy, smooth, with a nice finish.

With Mark Barth, Weingut Norbert Barth

Königin Victoriaberg of Joachim Flick – vibrant acidity, light herbal notes, long finish.

With Reiner Flick, Weingut Joachim Flick

There was a lot of talk about the wines of Balthasar Ress, which have been made for the past two years by wine blogger and wine maker Dirk Wuertz. All agreed that Dirk Wuertz is leading Weingut Balthasar Ress to unconventional and new hights. The Berg Schlossberg has lots of potential and should be put aside for the next 10 years.


3 wines were presented.

All 3 wines were not really convincing. I also noticed that there was no Pinot Noir Erstes Gewaechs from Assmannshausen.

Picture: The 3 Spaetburgunder Erstes Gewaechs Wines

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